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Baby Talk for Elders is a “No no”

The International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease was recently held in Chicago. New studies and information were revealed about the disease. There are some new treatments that show promise in research and that may be available for use within the next few years. The conference also focused on the best treatment practices for those suffering from the disease.

One issue that strikes a nerve is the way caregivers and family communicate with Alzheimer’s patients. There is a tendency to view those with even mild levels of dementia as child-like. You, as an elder, may have already experienced someone treating you “gently” as if you were an ignorant little child. New research shows that this is poor behavior and should not be tolerated.

The study showed that Alzheimer’s patients who are talked to like children or worse yet, with “baby talk” do not respond well to treatment. They often resist treatment and may even fight with their caregivers. This may be a normal human response to being treated without respect. It may also have something to do with the nature of Alzheimer’s and the elder’s ability to properly understand communication.

“With the growing prevalence of Alzheimer’s, it will be increasingly important for healthcare providers, caregivers and families to understand the effect Alzheimer’s has on communication and, perhaps more importantly, the impact their communication may have on the individual’s quality of life,” said Sam Fazio, PhD, Director, Medical and Scientific Relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Alzheimer’s researchers found that many facilities and caregivers use a form of communication dubbed “elder speak” which is similar to “baby talk.” It features simplified grammar and vocabulary, collective pronouns and overly intimate endearments. This may be done unconsciously, or in an effort at pleasant caregiving, but it is insulting to seniors who may fight back by resisting care. The use of elder speak and the subsequent resistance to care is counter productive. Elders in the study responded much better to being spoken with as an adult in plain, normal English.

The study also found that families can fall into a similar trap. The progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s make communication more difficult for the elder. They often have trouble finding the right word, and may have difficulty following a detailed discussion. They may respond with an incorrect word or with a statement that makes no sense in relation to the discussion. This is usually unanticipated by the younger person and he or she might struggle for an appropriate response. This leads either to the habit of ignoring the elder, or to treating the elder as a child and to the use of baby talk.These and other studies on

communicating with elders should lead to new methods and training programs for caregivers that will help build effective communication with those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. For the time being, you should try to communicate with your loved-one as an adult person (which they are) and avoid treating them as a child or leaving them out of conversations all together. Better understanding and communication leads to better results for the Elder and the family.